Softball – Wait a Second

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Pitching Pause Among 2017 NFHS Points of Emphasis

By Todd Korth

It has become common for players to wear wristbands that include play calls, color coded into different sections with many combinations. They have replaced signs for better accuracy and it has become commonplace in the game, but the wristbands have brought some unintended consequences, especially with pitchers.

Quite often a pitcher will look to a coach for the type of pitch to throw, listen for the number, then look to the wristband for the type of pitch. With the pitch in mind, the pitcher at times will then step onto the pitching plate and immediately go into her windup before firing off the pitch. While pitchers will pause to communicate with a coach off of the pitching plate, they don’t often pause once on the pitching plate, and that has become a problem across the country.

To combat that problem, NFHS has made it a point of emphasis for the 2017 season that umpires enforce the rule that pitchers take and/or simulate taking a signal while on the pitcher’s plate. Two other points of emphasis include the use of glitter or reflective materials on hair control devices and educating umpires on the key points of the DP/FLEX option.

Taking the signal. When the pitcher does not pause after stepping onto the plate to take or simulate taking a signal from the catcher, it is known as “stepping into the pitch” and is not only illegal but can be dangerous to an unsuspecting batter. That rule protects the batter. The pause indicates that the pitcher is ready to throw the ball.

There are specific requirements for the placement of the pitcher’s feet in each code, so call an illegal pitch if those rules are violated. In ASA, NCAA and USSSA, the non-pivot foot must remain in contact with the plate. If a right-handed pitcher places only her right foot on the pitcher’s plate, looks to the catcher for a signal and then moves her left foot forward and contacts the rubber, it is illegal in ASA, NCAA or USSSA, but not in NFHS. ASA, NCAA and USSSA require that the pitcher must take or simulate taking her signal while both feet are on the rubber. Non-compliance in those codes results in an illegal pitch.

In NFHS, even if the pitcher takes the actual signal behind and not in contact with the pitcher’s plate she must comply to that section of the rule by simulating taking the signal from the catcher once she is on the pitcher’s plate with her hands still separated. Then the pitcher must bring the hands together in front of the body for not less than one second and not more than 10 seconds before releasing the ball. The hands may be motionless or moving.

Rule 6-1-1 states that the pitcher shall take a position with the pivot foot on or partially on the top surface of the pitcher’s plate and the non-pivot foot in contact with or behind the pitcher’s plate. Both feet must be on the ground within or partially within the 24-inch length of the pitcher’s plate. Once the hands are brought together and are in motion, the pitcher shall not take more than one step, which must be forward, toward the batter and simultaneous with the delivery.

Any step backward shall begin before the hands come together. The step backward may end before or after the hands come together.

NFHS’s pitching rule supports a wide range of pitching styles by allowing a pitcher to start with both feet on the pitcher’s plate, one foot on and one foot behind or to step backward as a part of their pitching motion. The NFHS Softball Rules Committee feels the pitching rule, as written, allows players the greatest opportunity to pitch at the high school level.

The plate umpire is generally responsible for watching the pitcher’s hands and if she stays inside the width of the pitching chute. The base umpire(s) is mainly responsible for watching the pitcher’s feet.

Uniforms. The rules committee discussed concerns about the use of glitter or reflective materials on hair control devices. Coaches and players are reminded that a uniform shall not have any reflective adornments. Reflective materials on ribbons, bows and headbands, including glitter and rhinestones, are considered illegal and should not be permitted.

A headband made of elastic material that is designed to be tied in the back is not considered a bandanna, and is legal if it meets the color and manufacturers logo restrictions.

DP/FLEX reminders. The rules committee is asking coaches and umpires to be familiar with rules regarding the DP/FLEX. The following are key points to know regarding the rule.

• The DP can never play defense only.

• The FLEX can never be on offense only.

• The FLEX and DP can never play offense at the same time. The FLEX and DP positions are linked by the DP/FLEX rule. If the FLEX is going to play offense, she has to do it in the original DP’s position; therefore only one of them can play offense at a time. 

• The FLEX and DP can play defense at the same time. The DP can play defense for any player other than the FLEX and no one has left the game.

• The starting DP and starting FLEX each have one re-entry just like all other starters.

• Once the game is started with the DP/FLEX positions in the lineup those positions are available for the entire game. Even if the starting DP or starting FLEX has left the game a second time, the position is still available and an eligible substitute can enter the game as the FLEX or DP. So even though the starting player(s) left the game twice and cannot re-enter, their position(s) is/are still active as long as the team has eligible substitutes.

Todd Korth is a Referee associate editor and multi-sport official, including high school and college softball.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 11/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Soccer – Don’t Flag Referee’s Back

“When do I help my partner?” That question comes up often when you are running the line and wanting to do a good job. Advice to Referees 6.3 offers these thoughts: “Assistant referees should not signal at all for fouls or misconduct that clearly occur in the sight of the referee, that are doubtful or trifling, or for which the referee would likely have applied advantage. Assistant referees may, however, bring such events to the attention of the referee at a stoppage of play.” Sometimes newer assistants make the mistake shown in the PlayPic. They see an incident and know it is not a trifling foul. Without making eye contact with the referee, they raise the flag as the referee turns to follow the ball — they have flagged the referee’s back. As a rule of thumb, if you raise the flag because you saw misconduct (you would recommend the referee give a card of either color), keep the flag up. The other assistant will see your flag, raise his or her flag and point to you. If you raised the flag for a foul that was not misconduct, many referees would suggest in their pregame discussion, lower the flag. Tell the referee at the next convenient stoppage.

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Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/07 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – When Is The Outfield In?

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MLB Playoff Situation Shows Intricacies of Infield Fly Rule

By Jon Bible

In an October NL wild card game between Atlanta and St. Louis, umpire Sam Holbrook, working the left-field line as part of a six-man crew, made one of the most controversial calls in recent memory.

With Atlanta trailing, 6-3, in the eighth inning, there was one out and runners on first and second. Andrelton Simmons hit a fly ball to short left field that fell between St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday after a mix-up over who would catch the ball.

When the ball was hit, Kozma chased it at about a 45-degree angle toward the left-field foul pole, but he retreated a few steps toward the infield as Holliday came running in. With each hesitating, fearful of interfering with the other’s opportunity to catch the ball, it dropped several feet behind Kozma and in front of Holliday.

When the ball was just above Kozma’s head, Holbrook signaled Simmons was out because of the infield fly rule. Instead of Atlanta having the bases loaded with one out, the Braves ended up with runners on second and third with two out.

A 19-minute delay ensued as fans littered the field with cups, bottles and other trash, and eventually the Cardinals went on to a 6-3 win. Within seconds of the call, cyberspace was aflame with tweets and blog postings from irate fans, sportswriters and the like, all proclaiming that Holbrook was guilty of horrible judgment. But was he?

The rule, which is consistent at all levels of baseball from professional on down, provides that an infield fly is a fair fly ball, not including a line drive or an attempted bunt, that can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort when first and second or first, second and third bases are occupied with less than two out.

The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder that stations himself in the infield on the play are considered infielders for purposes of the rule.

Although the rule has read the same way since the Dark Ages when I played and began umpiring, I realized that I may not be up on all of the current thinking, especially at the professional level (it has only been 39 years since I worked pro ball), so I consulted with a young Austin umpire, Will Thornewell, who worked in Double-A in 2012.

He told me what the professional philosophy is and because the NCAA and NFHS rules are the same as the pro rule it logically follows that the pro philosophy should apply at those levels as well.

The key words in the rule are “caught with ordinary effort.” A widespread misconception among managers, coaches, players and even umpires, is that a fielder must be camped under the ball for the rule to apply.

Not true.

An infielder who goes into the outfield, whether facing the outfield or infield as he does, can position himself to catch the ball with ordinary effort even if he is 20-30 feet behind the infield cut. That is especially true at the higher levels where the infielders are so speedy and have such amazing range.

Some people also do not understand that the rule can apply to outfielders. If, for example, a left fielder ends up catching, or being in position to catch, a ball that could have been caught by a shortstop or third baseman with ordinary effort, the rule is in effect.

The video clip of the Holbrook play makes it clear that before he moved back toward the infield as Holliday closed in, Kozma was in precisely the spot where the ball fell.

In my judgment, Kozma could have caught the ball with ordinary effort had he stayed there and not retreated. Holbrook was right.

The wind must also play a role in deciding whether to call an infield fly. If it is windy and the ball is hit high in the air, an umpire should wait a second or two longer than he usually would to make his decision. If fielders were scrambling everywhere, it would not be an infield fly, because the catch could not be made with ordinary effort. The key question is whether the infielder is in control of himself; if he is, he probably can make the catch with ordinary effort, but if he isn’t, he can’t.

Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem had an interesting play in the early part of the 20th century. With the wind blowing a gale, a ball was hit high in the infield, causing the fielders to look like the Keystone Kops in trying to get a bead on it. It eventually hit the ground just behind the infield dirt, and Klem refused to invoke the rule because, as he later said, there was no way anyone was going to catch that ball with ordinary effort, given the conditions.

In the Holbrook play, it is obvious that Kozma was in control of himself as he was calling Holliday off. It’s not the umpire’s fault that poor communication between Kozma and Holliday resulted in Kozma retreating toward the infield and the ball falling between the two.

Many forget that the purpose of the rule is to prevent the defense from turning an undeserved double play by letting the ball fall. While not likely in the play in that game because of the location of the runners and the fielder, that is often what could happen on a more ordinary infield fly. A crafty infielder and quick action by his teammates could result in a double play, especially if one or more of the runners are slow.

Holbrook also caught flak for delaying his call until the last second, but an umpire often has to do that — or should — because it may only be belatedly that he reads the actions of the fielders and the location of the ball and concludes that the ordinary effort criterion was satisfied.

Given where runners need to be to be able to return to their base safely if the ball is caught, a delayed call should not negatively affect the offense. What difference does it make if the call is made early or late? Either way the runners are going to be in essentially the same position — far enough off the base to hopefully be able to get to the next base safely if the ball is not caught, but close enough to get back if the ball is caught and the fielder throws to that base to try to double him off. Remember that when the infield fly rule is invoked, the ball remains live and that runners can advance at their own risk.

One other issue — not in the Holbrook play — might be how high must the ball go for the rule to apply. By rule, no matter how high it goes, a bunt cannot result in an infield fly, nor can a line drive, which is a ball hit with no arc to it. The in-betweeners can, however, be tricky.

There is no way to set a black-white standard, e.g. the ball must have at least 15 feet of arc for it to be an infield fly; instead, it must have substantial arc and be more than a “hump-back” liner.

Holbrook attracted a lot of attention for his call, with scads of so-called experts attacking his judgment. Based on the wording of the rule and the applicable philosophy, however, he was dead right.

And, of course, in the end it was his judgment involved, which is why the league office denied the ensuing protest by the Braves. As a side note, it was good that the league did not remove him from the AL Championship Series. That has been known to happen in all sports at all levels when, correct or incorrect, an official makes a call that attracts widespread attention. Kudos to the powers-that-be for showing some spine!

Jon Bible, Austin, Texas, is a veteran umpire who worked six NCAA Division I College World Series.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 10/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – Speak The Language

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By Pete Acampora

Formal, Informal Signals a Must for Clear, Consistent Rulings

The wide variety of languages used in our world can sometimes be a barrier to effective communication. Many of us have been on a vacation or business trip to a country where English is not widely spoken, and our ability to communicate on a very basic level is sometimes a challenge. Volleyball officials are fortunate to be able to speak with one universal medium — our signals. Signals are the language of officiating.

Even if we travel to diverse areas of the U.S. to officiate, we are understood immediately by the coaches, players and fellow referees, and in most cases, the knowledgeable fans as well. Even those lucky enough to referee in international venues are able to communicate their rulings in a consistent manner and be understood by all participants, simply by using the authorized and appropriate signals. Any of us who have officiated matches where some or all players are deaf know how important it is to communicate utilizing correct officiating signals, even if the referees are not fluent in sign language.

Why, then, do we occasionally encounter an official who tries to communicate with unorthodox, unauthorized or confusing signals? I remember working a match as first referee with a peer who was attempting to give me some information. He was bent over at the waist with his left arm above and across his right forearm with one hand in a fist and the other holding a piece of paper. I did not understand that he was trying to indicate that he wanted a delay sanction assessed. We did discuss the issue during the postgame conversation, but came to no resolution. He was adamant that he was clear in his request and I should have been able to figure out what he wanted.

When I taught a beginning referee course to aspiring officials, I made a concerted effort to teach proper signals and mechanics — beyond just the basic rules of the game. Entry-level officials often have a background as a player or coach, and needed to understand the difference between being the recipient of signals and delivering a message through signals. New referees would be expected to know and properly use the language of officiating the first time they stepped on the court. They had to “speak” the language, not just understand it.

Entry-level referees often question the method of executing a particular signal, and perhaps even suggest a better way. The best explanation? No one person created or modified the signals; they are a product of the evolution of the sport, developing over time and existing at the present time as the universal way to communicate what is happening on the court. Signals are living, breathing and evolving as the game evolves.

Some of the signals we use today differ from similar signals of just a few years ago. Perhaps by understanding the rationale of their evolution, we can appreciate those who make decisions about techniques and their goal to make the signals clearer and easily understood. For example, the basic “point/fault signal” sequence that has been used for several years. A new official might not even realize the evolution of that technique. Currently, referees award the point by extending the arm in the direction of the team to serve next, and then signal the fault; a few years ago, that technique was the exact opposite. At the end of a point, the referees used to signal the fault and then award the point; and, the point signal was executed by raising the index finger on the side of the team winning it.

What changed? Why bother changing the basic signal (or sequence) when both methods communicated who was awarded the point and why? It would seem to me that someone considered that since there are no situations in volleyball when more than one point is awarded, why keep showing that single finger? Simply signaling with an extended arm would produce the same outcome. I also have surmised by speaking with experienced scorers that indicating which team won the point first made it quicker for them to record the result of the play and be ready for the next service. Scorers really don’t need to know why a team was awarded a point, only who won the point.

Other informal yet acceptable signals in common use include the “finger wag” that is often used internationally to informally control behavior. We do not train to use that mechanic because it is considered inappropriate — more like an angry parent to a child. We train to use other body language or informal signals as informal behavioral controls. Another informal signal from the first referee, when not accepting a line judge’s decision, is a “toot-toot” and a tap of his or her chest to indicate “my call.”

There are others, but the point is that use of informal signals developed, like language, through convention, although we would hope our informal signals are logical and consistent, to convey the appropriate message.

Signals should be considered a language and are therefore communication devices that affect all participants — referees, players, coaches, scorers and fans. In any conversation, to be understood, we must choose our words wisely and use correct grammatical form. To be understood properly during any volleyball match we must use the proper, appropriate and authorized signals at the right time in order to convey the exact meaning with no room for misinterpretation.

Pete Acampora of Bronx, N.Y., is a high school, USAV and collegiate referee, director of a summer volleyball day camp and was a longtime USAV and high school boys’ and girls’ volleyball coach.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 10/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Features – Eight ways to never get another game

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By Tim Sloan

Want to keep your officiating career on track? Here are a few things to avoid.

The pages of Referee often feature the do’s for landing the next big game and breaking into the next level. But equally important to furthering an officiating career is avoiding the don’ts — the things that draw negative attention to ourselves and make it harder to fill our officiating dance card.

For sure, there are “special causes” that can cut back our assignments. Slugging the coach, ratting out the concession stand to the health department or parking in the handicapped spot all come to mind. But let’s examine the laundry list of boneheaded decisions that some of our guild routinely pull — even if they don’t realize it. They embarrass/annoy/piss off our assigners to the point that the Maytag repairman looks like a workaholic in contrast. If you want to spend more time doing less as an official, remember to include some of these gambits in your repertoire:

1. Dump assignments OK, everybody now and then has a work commitment come up on short notice. Hey, sometimes your grandmother dies — but three times? The best assigners know enough to hedge against the unexpected and keep a small stable of super subs, but you don’t want to test their patience and get them writing your name in pencil. Honor your commitments or find another avocation.

2. Double-book yourself Once or twice a year, I see emails — dripping with angst and self-flagellation — from officials who realized they took two games on the same day and have to punt one. Some actually offer the “better” game because it was the second one offered. It can happen, but when “disorganization” becomes a pattern, your growth prospects are about as good as a three-legged zebra’s. A cunning variation of that strategy is accepting a game and then being offered a better assignment for the same day: The perp takes the second with the excuse he or she hasn’t received a contract yet on the original assignment.

3. Make a liar out of Werner Heisenberg The German physicist’s Uncertainty Principle is that there’s a limit to knowing two related properties of a particle at the same time. How, then, do you beg off of the mandatory clinic because you need root canal work but get caught sipping a cold one at the Cubs’ game at the same time? It’s much, much easier to keep the truth straight than lies. If the demands of keeping up your officiating commitments don’t jive with your social life, stop kidding yourself and other people. Choose one or the other.

4. Defraud your assigner
I remember sitting in the locker room one time, 45 minutes before a Thursday night college game, nervously waiting for half the crew to show up. The referee, umpire and back judge were already 75 minutes late when they finally strolled in, already in uniform. Seems the high school game they just worked ran a little long, and traffic was a bear. I also remember the game ending 86-21 and there being three misapplications of rules that I couldn’t talk people into changing. While officiating isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, it should become the only thing in your life once you earn someone’s trust, commit to an assignment and back your car out of the driveway. Nowadays, they talk about dressing one level above your customer in a business meeting; the corollary is treating your assignment with as much commitment as the people playing in it. Give them your best rather than what you have left because your narcissism kicked in again.

5. Be a prima donna When you’re acting the part I described in the previous segment, it’s important not to hire a skywriter to remind people. Be humble and empathize a bit. There’s a difference between being right in how you handle an assignment and being dead right. I once worked a soccer match with a guy who declared that he wasn’t leaving without his game fee. It didn’t matter to him that the team treasurer had been unexpectedly hospitalized and a mailed check had already been promised. So, there were the club chairman and president on their hands and knees, emptying their pockets of crumpled bills and loose change to pay Tony so the rest of us could hit the road. Sure, there are all sorts of subplots to go with anecdotes like that one, but if your pattern becomes being a pain in the rear about your definition of “principles,” either you’re wrong for the league or the league’s wrong for you — and it will only play out one way.

6. Undermine your fellow officials Now, I’m pretty good with computers and know how most of the thingies work for the TV, but I don’t understand Facebook, Twitter and whatever else. Oh, I know what you do with them; I just don’t understand why it’s anybody’s business what music I like or, more to the point, what I thought of the referees in last night’s game at state. Somewhere, too many officials have concluded that criticizing another official is protected speech on social media for which they cannot be held accountable. Maybe it’s “free” — from the perspective that you can’t go to jail for it — but it’s very costly if you think it will help your career. Let’s see: It brings your objectivity into question; it antagonizes prospective partners; it makes your assigner question your motives; and it erases any chance you’ll have for the benefit of the doubt, should you ever need it. Here’s a rule of thumb: If HR might get involved if you said the same thing at work that you just wrote about another official on Facebook, you probably shouldn’t have written it. The officiating community has a way of running off bad eggs.


Be humble and empathize a bit. There’s a difference between being right in how you handle an assignment and being dead right.


7. Be a high-maintenance partner This story, just in: An officiating assignment should be something you look forward to for the game itself, the events surrounding it and the officials with whom you work. Your crewmates should be thinking the same thing. Having said that, the Apollo 11 astronauts — for all their fame — were not a close-knit trio, tending to go their separate ways after work. The Apollo 12 crew, by comparison, was a 24/7 party, right down to their matching gold Corvettes. The Apollo 7 crew alienated themselves so thoroughly the ground controllers mused about having them splash down in a hurricane. A crew — any kind of a crew — can function well together without necessarily even liking each other if they can keep their focus on the prime objective. Make no mistake, however, that crew leaders — any kind of crew leaders — have some say in crew selection. If you’re the type of crewmate who develops a rep — from your toenail clipping to your inflated ego — of grating on others, you will find your opportunities and schedule starting to dwindle.

Let’s see … oh, yes; there’s one other item on the list which bears mention:

8. Suck We can look at most of the previous items on this list as “qualifiers” (or not) to work games. Generally, if you have only limited symptoms of some of the diseases covered, they might be tolerated if you show an ability to part the waters once out between the lines. General Patton wasn’t revered by everyone in the Third Army, but he was good at winning battles, so they went along with him. Hey, many of us played for a coach we loathed, but we finished 9-2 and a lot was forgotten. That being the case, there is no more sure-fire way to ruin a career than by becoming a certified liability. To achieve that, try these time-tested behaviors: Don’t work at the rules. Set aside sanctioned mechanics in favor of your own. Don’t keep up your conditioning. Be a distraction. Let the teams get to you. Let the fans get to you. Let your significant other get to you. Let your pride get to you. Don’t attend clinics because you “won’t learn anything.” Consider your own perspective to be sacrosanct. Don’t consider others better than yourself. Believe it’s more important to protect yourself than to serve the game.

Every event in your officiating career is an experience — whether it’s a positive one or negative is up to you. You start heading down the road to ruin when you make too many experiences negative for you, those around you or your assigner. Most officials who I see fail in some sense have a false and sad sense of entitlement when it comes right down to it. They burn out because the combination of their intellect, athleticism, character and personality isn’t suited to the level they’re trying to work — and they don’t deal with it well. Sometimes that happens in Pop Warner, sometimes in Division II. Whatever the case, if you’re driven by the notion, “It can’t be me,” it tends to lead to behaviors mentioned above, alienating you from all your potential benefactors.

Becoming a better official and thereby improving assignments is a process which takes time to complete and can only be escalated so much. You may not have the tools to reach the level you desire, but you certainly have the ability to make it worse for yourself through poor motives, poor choices and poor actions.

Being hardworking and responsible as an official guarantees nothing, but placing yourself above it all guarantees everything.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 10/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Catch This If You Can

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It’s a question fans have debated for years: What’s the hardest thing to do in sports? Hit a baseball? Shoot par in golf? Score a goal in ice hockey? Drive a race car?

Now, there’s another possibility: determining what’s a catch in football.

The challenge is greatest in the NFL, as evidenced by several high-profile plays in recent seasons that have led to head-scratching, outright outrage and rulebook tweaks. Still, the question persists: What’s a catch?

As John Branch of the New York Times wrote, “Where once the catch was football’s version of obscenity — we know it when we see it — it became a play to be dissected from all angles and the slowest possible speeds.”

In other words, paralysis by analysis.

“That’s a good way to put it, but I don’t think the rule is all that complicated,” explained Rogers Redding, CFO national coordinator of football officials. “I think the fact that we can slow everything down now and see a blade of grass up to a gnat’s eyelash has made it more difficult to understand.”

The advent of replay as an officiating tool and advances in technology have helped fuel the debate. “I would say the catch/no catch is in the top two or three for reviews, instant replays and stoppages of the game,” Redding said. “The big ones are scoring plays. Did the ball break the plane of the goalline? Was the ball fumbled? And catch/no catch.”

But as Redding noted, “sometimes it’s all (of those situations) on one play.”

Add the remarkable talents of today’s athletes and you have a mix that often results in confusion and controversy.

Although when it was introduced, replay was not universally embraced by officials, it has become their best friend. “I used to tell the men, ‘Look, if you make a mistake on the field on Sunday afternoon and it’s corrected, you’ll feel a lot better than me making a phone call to you on Tuesday and chewing you out because you blew the call,’” said Art McNally, NFL director of officiating from 1968-91. “Replay has been a help to the officials because the real, real tough catch can be ruled complete or incomplete. That’s the beauty of replay.”

The catch/no catch rule continues to be a hot-button topic among fans, players, coaches and administrators. In fact, the NFL convened a gathering of former and current receivers last winter to discuss the league’s catch rules and to determine whether the rule language needed to be tweaked.

“We had two groups come in,” said Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating, at a meeting of NFL owners in March. “(We invited) former players Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Randy Moss, Steve Largent and Chad Lewis. And we reached out to current players. Jordy Nelson joined us. And then we had a group of former head coaches, front office people and game officials.

The consensus was the rule was adequate (although the 2016 NFL rulebook does include new language that attempts to clarify the rule). “We have to continue to use video and show examples and teach and educate, not just for the media and fans but the coaches and our players and game officials,” Blandino said.

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Big Games, Big Calls

One of the NFL’s most famous pass plays, involving Tampa Bay receiver Bert Emmanuel in the playoffs following the 1999 season, resulted in a rule change. The St. Louis Rams were leading, 11-6, with 51 seconds remaining when Tampa Bay quarterback Shawn King hit a diving Emmanuel for an apparent 12-yard gain on a second-and-23 play. However the play was reviewed by referee Bill Carollo. When he noticed that the ball made contact with the turf, Carollo overturned the call. Following two incomplete passes, the Rams took possession and ran out the clock.

“Jerry Markbreit was my replay person, probably the most respected official in the country, and he stopped (the game),” Carollo recalled. “We talked about it and it was clear-cut the ball touched the ground. We ruled it as a trap, that it touched the ground.”

If the same play happened today, Emmanuel would be credited with a catch as the NFL changed the rule before the next season. “From that point on, we allowed the ball to touch the ground, but you had to maintain control,” Carollo explained. “We said ‘OK, if this play happens again, and he doesn’t lose control, we’re going to give him a catch even though it touched the ground.’ So that caused the first rule change and we’ve been trying to tweak what a catch is ever since.”

The controversy surrounding that overturn quickly became personal. Following the contest, Carollo and Markbreit received telephoned death threats. Carollo had to take his children out of school for a few days.

“It was controversial but we were comfortable with that decision,” Carollo said. “To the credit of the NFL, they made a rule change. They thought it probably would be better if that type of play is a catch.

“We were pretty strict … don’t let it hit the ground,” he continued. “Now we’re letting it hit the ground, but don’t lose control. Now we’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt if we feel you’re a runner. That’s true judgment. You can say common sense, but it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. Did he really have it long enough?”

Still another memorable play came in the 2006 NFL playoffs, when the Pittsburgh Steelers upset the Indianapolis Colts. With 5:26 remaining, Troy Polamalu made an apparent diving interception of a Peyton Manning pass, tumbled with it and got up to run. As he rose, Polamalu juggled the ball, but he recovered and was credited with a catch. Colts’ coach Tony Dungy challenged the call. Referee Pete Morelli overturned the call via replay and the Colts maintained possession.

Catch-This-If-You-Can-QuoteThe following day, the NFL announced that Morelli should have let the call on the field stand. Mike Pereira, then the league’s vice president of officiating, said in a statement, “(Polamalu) maintained possession long enough to establish a catch. Therefore, the replay review should have upheld the call on the field that it was a catch.”

Unfortunately, rule changes did not prove to be nirvana. Early in the 2010 season, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson appeared to score the winning touchdown late in a game at Chicago. Johnson leapt, grabbed the ball and came to the ground in the end zone. As Johnson rose, the ball slipped out of his grasp momentarily and replay overturned the call.

A play in the 2014 playoffs is still being debated. Dallas receiver Dez Bryant made an acrobatic play to seemingly catch a pass inside the Green Bay one yardline. But upon rolling over onto his chest, the ball eluded Bryant’s hand. Once again, replay changed the call from catch to no catch.

“When you go to the ground to make the catch you have to hold on to (the ball) throughout that entire process,” Blandino said. “When Dez hits the ground with his left arm, the ball hits the ground.”

A Definite Definition?

So exactly what is a catch?

“The easiest way I can describe the rule is control plus two feet plus time,” Blandino said. “Once we get there (control plus two feet), then we get into the gray area of time.”

The concept of time first showed up in the rulebook in 1938, it was clarified in 1942 and it’s been the basic foundation of the rule since, he explained. “The rulebook definition of time is ‘have the ball long enough to clearly become a runner.’ So what does that mean? That means you have the ability to ward off, avoid contact by a defender and advance the football. That was previously defined as ‘performing an act common to the game.’

“What the time element does is allow the onfield official to rule the bang-bang play incomplete and be more consistent,” Blandino said. “And what we refer to as a bang-bang play is control plus two feet and contact that occurs simultaneous or almost simultaneous (with arrival of the ball). The key part of the rule allows for greater consistency on the field because slow motion replay distorts that time element on the field. Now we’re debating, ‘Did he have it long enough or did he not?’”

High school’s definition of a catch was tweaked in 2013 to address a situation in which a player with a grasp on the ball was pushed or carried out of bounds before coming to the ground. But even with that change, it’s a far simpler rule.

According to the NFHS rulebook, “A catch is the act of establishing player possession of a live ball which is in flight, and first contacting the ground inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball or having the forward progress of the player in possession stopped while the opponent is carrying the player who is in possession and inbounds.”

If you’re thinking that it takes someone with an advanced physics degree to rule on catches, take comfort in knowing even those close to the game aren’t 100 percent certain. Carollo, who is the coordinator of football officials for a consortium of collegiate conferences that includes the Big Ten, gets a small dose of satisfaction when he asks for coaches’ opinions of controversial plays.

“I always take those tough plays, put them on video,” Carollo explained. “I give them the same angle that the covering onfield official has and tell the coaches, ‘OK, you vote. Tell me, is this a catch? Is this a touchdown?’ And they go, ‘Whoa, this is really tough.’”

In his meeting with NFL owners, Blandino admitted as much. “We’re ultimately going to have plays that look like a catch but isn’t by definition of a rule,” he said. “And most often, those are the plays in which a receiver hits the ground with the ball, bobbles it, then it eventually squirts loose.”

Last year, apparent touchdowns involving the Bengals’ Tyler Eifert and Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman were ruled incomplete because they lost a grip on the ball as they were going to the ground. Both calls caused uproars. Eifert’s touchdown was overturned on a fourth-and-one play from Baltimore’s two yardline when he lunged for the goalline. The ball broke the plane of the goalline, but he lost the ball when he hit the ground.

“When we talk about going to the ground, again, it’s control plus two feet plus time,” Blandino said. “If I don’t have that while upright and I’m going to the ground, the standard becomes, hold on to the ball when you land. 

Catch-This-If-You-Can-End-Zone“If he’s not a runner before going to the ground,” Blandino continued, “the requirement becomes, again, survive the ground. So if you’re not a runner prior to going to the ground in the process of making that catch, you must maintain control when you land.”

Carollo agreed. “That’s one of our most difficult calls — understanding exactly when the player transitions from a receiver to a runner,” he said. “It sounds simple. You know what a runner is when he’s going up the middle (on a running play), but (on a pass play) I’m saying there’s a split second of time when you’re not a receiver anymore and now you become a runner.”

“There are many times when a ruling on the field will stand, but we’re not making it a definitive declaration that it’s either a catch or not a catch,” Blandino explained. “We’re saying the evidence doesn’t allow us to make a definitive ruling.”

More Than Catch/No Catch

Making the catch/no catch rule even more difficult to understand is its correlation to another key rule: targeting.

“That’s an important point,” Carollo said. “Everyone loses sight of that. You’re always going to be a receiver and you have to hang on to the ball, but if you catch it, turn and make a football move, change your direction, reach for the goalline, reach for a first down — something other than the process of the catch — we can put you into a runner category. The problem is, if we transition you from a receiver to a runner you lose your protection for targeting (for a high hit).”

“This rule is directly tied to the defenseless player rule,” Blandino added. “So the amount of time required to gain possession is the same amount of time you’re protected as a defenseless receiver. If we shorten that time to gain possession, we’re shortening the time the player is protected from hits to the head and neck area.”

You might say that’s another catch in the rules.

George Hammond is a veteran football official from York, Pa.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Tips for working as the Referee” with legendary white hat Jerry Markbreit

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about how to determine what is a pass and what is a fumble.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about what the referee does when two officials have conflicting calls with one another and won’t back down.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about how to sound competent and confident on the microphone.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about the importance of rules study and knowing all the penalty enforcements.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about what needs to be done as the referee to ensure that the entire crew is on the same page on and out of the field.

Getting It Right – A Referee Gets Creative to Help Fight Cancer

Officials-vs-Cancer

By Evan Hoopfer

Lou Levine always teased one of his friends about his friend’s thick nest of black hair. Before the start of the basketball season a few years ago, Levine thought it was time he called his friend.

He was joking as usual and then asked, “How’s your hair doing?

“I don’t have any hair,” his friend responded.

Levine’s friend had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. All his black hair was gone. The joking ended and the gravity of the situation struck Levine hard.

Just a few weeks before, Levine was at an officials meeting when someone raised the topic of Officials vs. Cancer. Levine thought about helping out, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about it.

But after that phone call to his friend, Levine went all in. Levine, a lawyer from central Massachusetts, set out to get donations. Since 2012, he has raised approximately $231,000.

“I’m trying to do something more than just being a referee,” he said. “I could go out and referee a game, but if I could go out there and raise some money, then it’s so much for the better.”

With permission of the schools at which he officiates, he asks people in the crowd for donations before games. He gets people to sponsor him. He said officials he works with donate their game checks. He does everything he can to try and raise as much money as possible.

Levine spends a lot of time on the court, which means a lot of opportunities to collect donations. Last year, he officiated more than 200 games largely because of the desire to raise more money. He donates his game fees as well.

The fundraising has something of a snowball effect. It has been a bit easier because the more and more he raises, the more attention his efforts receive, which means more money.

When he calls someone (he always calls; never emails) and asks for a donation, he offers to send them newspaper articles or links to broadcasts from TV stations to show his passion for the cause.

“Now, people know who I am and remember me from the previous year,” he said. “It’s the awareness part of it that I think is important. Even aside from raising money.”

Tragically, Levine’s friend was not his only acquaintance to be affected by cancer. Two of the referees at the meeting where the fundraising idea was broached died shortly thereafter due to complications from cancer.

“Everybody’s gonna get it,” Levine said. “Or, if you don’t get it, there’s going to be somebody very near and dear to you that does get it.”

He can’t help but get emotional when, before or after games, people come up to him and tell him they are a cancer survivor.

“It reverberates with you after a while,” he said, “that a lot of people are suffering from cancer.”

Evan Hoopfer is a freelance writer from Dallas.

Lou Levine is a great inspiration for officials everywhere. Lou has raised more than 200 thousands dollars in the fight to cure cancer. Lou donates all his game fees and whatever money he collects at each game to the American Cancer Society. Because of his hard work, generosity and selflessness, NASO and IAABO presented Lou with a Great Call award at the 2016 Sports Officiating Summit in San Antonio.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 09/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Short, Simple and Complete

By Jon Bible

Football-Short-Simple-and-Complete

Done Right, Onfield Meetings Can Be Effective

Much has been written and said about the importance of perception in officiating. Image is everything, as the saying goes and that is true not only of the officials comprising a crew but the crew as a whole. Little things that crews do and fail to do can create in the minds of coaches, players and observers the belief that the crew is in command of things — or conversely, confused and perhaps in over its head.

One thing that football crews often do that can foster a negative impression is to have conferences that go on too long or involve officials with nothing useful to offer. How many times have you seen games in which multiple officials converge to discuss what may be something as simple as a false start and to prolong the discussion to the point that everyone gets antsy? To be sure, when more than one official has a flag down on a play, all of the calling officials must get together to compare notes; what I’m talking about are crew conferences when only the referee and calling official need to be involved, crew conferences that are needed but involve five people when only three have something meaningful to contribute and meetings that go on endlessly because those involved are talking over each other, too excited and the like.

If, for example, only the head linesman has a false start before the snap, he can quickly communicate that to the referee and umpire, the umpire can immediately march off the penalty and the referee can give the signal and, if applicable, microphone announcement. There doesn’t need to be any preliminary signal by the referee or any other officials involved in the discussion; in fact, there really doesn’t need to be much discussion at all. The procedure in college ball is for the linesman to give the referee a visual false start signal, which the umpire will see; all the referee needs is the player’s number (if he doesn’t already know it) and then makes an announcement while the umpire marks off the five yards. Bing, bang, done. If others besides the linesman have a flag down, they will converge with the referee and the umpire to determine whether it is a false start or defense in the neutral zone (offside). But again, they do their thing and get on with it.

The same thing applies no matter the foul(s) and number of officials with flags. We need to be sure that everyone understands what has been called and what the enforcement is, but we do it expeditiously and without officials with no flags down involved in the discussion.

If it is appropriate at whatever level you work for calling officials to give visual signals, it sure can help the referee to get things clarified and enforced with alacrity. One example is the one above, in which the linesman has a false start; his giving me the visual signal eliminates the need for a lengthy discussion. If a deep official has defensive pass interference and, after he throws his flag, he gives me the appropriate signal and points to the defense, the tumblers of my mind start immediately working. As I run downfield to meet him I already know what he has called and I can calculate whether the foul is a spot foul or we will enforce the 15 yards (because that is how interference is enforced under NCAA rules). That eliminates a lot of talk and possible confusion, saves a ton of time and helps us to look crisp and in control.

In line with that, I do not give options to the captain if the choice is clear. That wastes time. If, for example, the offense gains six yards on a running play so that it will be third and four, but there is holding in the backfield, no consultation is needed to know the defense wants the penalty enforced. Once I get the foul and its location and the number of the fouling player — the umpire will know that as he will be with me when the calling official reports that information — the umpire enforces the penalty and I give the announcement. NFHS mechanics don’t allow for that lack of consultation, but the idea is be as brief as possible.

Being thorough but expeditious helps to move the game along and creates the impression that the crew is on top of things. Contrast that with the situation in which there is a lot of discussion involving a lot of people. The referee starts to leave and do something but  then he returns and there is more discussion, with officials pointing here, there and yonder until finally something is done. The reality may be that the crew knows what it is doing, but the perception will be otherwise and there can be a snowball effect with doubts cast on things the crew does or calls down the line.

Lest anyone misunderstand, let me stress that I am not advocating speed at the expense of accuracy. Sometimes conferences are necessary and it will take a while to sort things out. Ultimately, our goal has to be to get things right. I am simply saying that multi-official conferences should be held only when they are necessary; they should be reasonable in length, meaning that everyone who talks must do so calmly; and they should not involve officials with nothing to offer. If you don’t have a flag down or something meaningful to offer, stay out of it.

Having said all of that, it is essential to ensure that all of the pieces of the puzzle are put together at one time and before the referee does anything. Last season our crew had a game that began with an onside kick. On the goalline, I saw a flag from the back judge and then saw the side judge point to indicate that the receivers recovered the kick. The back judge told me he had offside on the kickers; the side judge told me he pointed the wrong way and the kickers recovered. Fine. I announced the penalty, noted there would be a rekick and ran back to the goalline. Tweet, tweet! In comes the field judge to ask why, if the receivers recovered, we’re not adding the penalty to the spot of the recovery. I told him the side judge pointed the wrong way and the kickers recovered. Off goes the field judge, only to tweet, tweet and come running in again to ask whether the kick went 10 yards or the receivers should get it at the spot of illegal touching. That meant I had to get the side judge involved to ask him about that; he said it did go 10 yards.

When we finally rekicked, with 14:55 on the clock in the first quarter, we had pretty well convinced the two coaches that we had no clue what we were doing. The Keystone Cops looked more organized and in command than we did.

First, kudos to the field judge. My rule is that even if you’re the one guy on the crew who thinks something is not right, stop the game and ask the question, for you may save the entire crew from disaster. But my main point is that we did not take our time from the start to be sure we had all the necessary information assembled and that all of us were on the same page before anyone enforced or announced anything. The play was a little confusing andthere was a lot going on, but there is no excuse for it having led to all of the discussions, meetings, etc., that ensued.

The next time you work a game, spend time in the pregame discussing the notion of having conferences only if clearly needed, limiting them to the people with relevant input to offer, having people talk calmly and not over one another and ensuring that discussions end with all pieces of the puzzle put together and all crew members singing from the same song sheet. Handling business in an expeditious, crisp and organized fashion will go a long way toward creating the impression that the crew knows what it, is doing, which can save its bacon when the tough times come.

Jon Bible is a veteran football official from Austin, Texas. He is a referee in the Big 12 Conference and worked the 2008 BCS national championship game.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/08 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – 5 Minutes with Karen Preato

5-minutes-with-KAREN-PREATO

Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.

Experience: Started officiating at the college level in 1998 and entered the D-I ranks in 2003. Currently works in the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Coast, Atlantic Sun, American Athletic, Big East, Big South, Conference USA, Colonial, Patriot and Southern


REFEREE:
True or false? Double whistles are bad.

PREATO: False. When it is points of intersection, it’s a confirmation that the officials have the same call. We’re tuned in to own our primary and call our primary. If you want to come fishing all the way over from the trail into the C’s area, come on over, but you’re responsible for that. But I can make that call. When you have areas of intersection, you have a quick second on the court. You can’t look at the floor and say, “Oh, is that the lead’s or is that mine?” I think it’s instinct that you know where the play is, that you understand that it’s an area of intersection. You’re going to have a double whistle at times.

REFEREE: What effect does trusting the system and your partners play?

PREATO: It kind of goes back to fishing in the pond. It’s a regular job. People go to work as accountants, as doctors, as dentists, they have a job to do. So do officials. I know that if I’m in my area and you’re in the C, I’m in the trail. I know you have a job to do and you’re going to do it. The reason why you may not do something is because you couldn’t see it. Or there’s been times when a player pushes an official while chasing a loose ball, and all of a sudden it’s an obvious foul. I now know I need to go and help. So I trust him or her to give that official the opportunity, but I’m doing what’s best for the game. It’s not for the official, it’s for the players. It’s the right call. Trust your partners and work the system; plays are going to call themselves. Sometimes the official just can’t get to where he or she needs to be and somebody else can see it better.

REFEREE: What are common areas for double whistles to occur?

PREATO: The free-throw line, transition, screens, sometimes the top of the key when you’ve got the screen coming off the dribbler, maybe leaving the trail going to the C, and on a screen down in the blocks, the paint.

REFEREE: Art versus science. Can it be all science?

PREATO: You cannot get every play. You can’t. People put plays up and they say they want that called. OK, I can do that. Well, sometimes it is different when you’re on the floor. Sometimes you think you have the right call on the floor and you go back and you’re like, “Oh, we missed that little hold first. We couldn’t see this, but we could see everything else.” Is it really the art or science? You can’t get there. We joke about if they put robots on the floor and every time they see it, bam, bam, bam. You can just sit up in the stands, like video. Foul, foul, foul, foul.

REFEREE: What is more important: play-calling, mechanics or rules knowledge?

PREATO: Most definitely rules. I need to know what was illegal about the contact or the violation that I just put a whistle on, because now I’m penalizing the team for a violation or I’m penalizing a player and giving them a foul. I need to know if they established legal guarding position to draw that charge. Were they vertical to block a shot? Did they come through the shooter? I need to understand the definitions or the rules in order to enforce what I’m calling on the floor. If I call a push on the spot and now I come to the table and I report a hit, that’s bad mechanics, right? Now the coach can say to me, “Karen, what did you really see on that play? You called a push. At the table you just said you got a hit.” I’ll say, “Well Coach, she pushed.” I think sometimes we all get caught up in mechanics. We might have forgotten to close our fist for a foul. But I can give them the rule interpretation of what I called on the floor. Most of the time coaches see the play. They know how that girl got to that floor when it’s obvious. When there’s a questionable one, that’s when knowing the rules or applying the definition of why you’re calling a foul is important.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 06/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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